Washington Post: Iran has again defied U.N. demands to suspend its nuclear enrichment programs, according to a report issued yesterday by the International Atomic Energy Agency, leading Bush administration officials to demand increased pressure on Tehran. Washington Post
Nuclear Enrichment Continues, Report Says
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 24, 2007; A01
Iran has again defied U.N. demands to suspend its nuclear enrichment programs, according to a report issued yesterday by the International Atomic Energy Agency, leading Bush administration officials to demand increased pressure on Tehran.
The IAEA report said that Iran has significantly accelerated its enrichment capability and has not provided a range of verification information to the agency. The IAEA’s “level of knowledge of certain aspects of Iran’s nuclear-related activities has deteriorated,” the four-page document said. The report described the last 60 days of activity since an assessment in March led to the adoption of a U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution against Iran. That resolution stepped up the sanctions initially authorized in December.
“The pressure so far has not produced the results that we all have been hoping for,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “The time has come,” he said, to “ratchet up the pressure to bring about a change in Iranian calculation.”
The IAEA report comes amid tension within the administration over how aggressively to respond to the continued Iranian defiance on a range of issues, including its nuclear program and support for international terrorism and violent insurgents in Iraq. Vice President Cheney’s office and hard-liners on the National Security Council staff think the current carrot-and-stick strategy leans too far in the direction of carrots.
Standing two weeks ago aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, 150 miles off the Iranian coast, Cheney said he wanted to “send a clear message to our friends and adversaries alike” that the administration will protect its interests and honor its commitments. Arab states have pressed for U.S. protection of oil supply routes. Yesterday, nine U.S. warships sailed through the Strait of Hormuz toward Iran to begin an unannounced exercise in international waters.
At the same time, the State Department recently succeeded in getting President Bush’s authorization to hold direct talks with Tehran on the situation in Iraq — something the president had repeatedly said he would not permit without a change in Tehran’s behavior. The U.S. and Iranian ambassadors to Iraq are due to begin a dialogue in Baghdad on Monday.
At a news conference last week with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush said that the United States would push for a third Security Council resolution if the IAEA report was negative. The measure is expected to require additional restrictions on Iran, including mandatory travel bans on specific government officials, expanded prohibitions against dealing with Iranian companies and banks, and new sanctions against companies associated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Arms imports from Iran are currently banned; a ban on weapons exports to the country is also being considered.
U.S. officials said yesterday that the administration will delay pressing for new Security Council action until after the talks scheduled for next Thursday between European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Ali Larijani, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator. On behalf of the United States, France, Britain and Germany, Solana has been instructed to consider even a month-long suspension as Iranian progress, but Iran has refused and officials expressed little optimism the meeting would lead to a breakthrough.
Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns called the IAEA report “disturbing, because it shows that Iran is effectively thumbing its nose at the U.N. and the entire international community. If Iran does not agree to sit down and negotiate, which we would prefer they do, then I’m quite sure there will be united and strong international pressure for a third resolution.”
“The purpose would be to demonstrate to Iran that it is isolated and will pay an increasingly heavy cost for this outrageous behavior,” Burns said. Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s new conservative president, told a German magazine, in his first public comments on the issue, that a nuclear-armed Iran would be “unacceptable” and that “one should not hesitate to toughen the sanctions.”
IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei infuriated the administration and its European partners last week by telling reporters that the demands for suspension have been “superseded by events” in Iran. He said they should accept a certain level of uranium enrichment in exchange for more inspections and Iranian agreement not to expand the program.
“We vehemently disagree . . . with the contention that somehow the international community should allow Iran to get away with violating all of its obligations,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in criticizing the IAEA chief. The official said that U.S., French and British officials will meet with ElBaradei at IAEA headquarters in Vienna tomorrow to express their displeasure.
Iran has said that it is interested only in peaceful uses of nuclear energy, allowed under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has denied that it is working toward a nuclear weapon.
The nuclear part of the administration’s long-term Iran strategy, designed by the State Department and European allies, offers Iran significant economic and diplomatic cooperation and a steady supply of enriched uranium produced outside the country for energy use in exchange for suspension. So far, Iran’s refusal to accept the offer has led to the two unanimous Security Council resolutions — weakly worded, in the view of administration hard-liners.
Bush last year also authorized diplomatic, intelligence, political and military measures targeting Iranian interests in the Middle East. Some of the measures, which followed decades of disruptive, classified activities authorized by previous administrations since relations with Tehran were severed in 1979, have been carried out with other governments in the region, officials have said. They include efforts to counter Iranian backing of Hezbollah in Lebanon and recently increased Iranian support for the Taliban in Afghanistan. The authorization also led several months ago to the arrest of a handful of Iranian operatives in Iraq.
During the enrichment process, uranium is rapidly spun in centrifuges. Yesterday’s IAEA report said that during a surprise visit on May 13, nuclear inspectors found eight operating enrichment cascades — each with 164 centrifuges, for a total of 1,312 — being fed uranium hexafloride at the underground facility near the town of Natanz. Five additional cascades were in various stages of completion. The number was more than four times the total number of centrifuges operating at the time of the last IAEA report, in February.
Although the total was far from the 3,000 centrifuges that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted would be operating by May, some nuclear experts said that point could be reached by early summer. The glass “is a little more than half full,” said David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.
But the level of enrichment — less than 5 percent — is substantially lower than the 90 percent required to make a nuclear weapon, and it is unclear how much Iran is producing and how smoothly the complicated machines are operating. U.S. government and outside analysts differ on when Iran would be able to produce a bomb, with estimates ranging from 2009 to 2015. The United States and its European partners are sending their top nuclear specialists to the IAEA next week to share information, more fully understand Iran’s capabilities and reach consensus on a timeline.
Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.